Then Shuttlcock Boys, Now X – Hemant Gaba In Conversation

Shuttlecock Boys is the story of 4 friends with a common love for Badminton, who one day embark upon a  journey that is life changing. Truly inspired by his very own life, the film afforded its producer Hemant Gaba much admiration within the independent film industry. I had the pleasure of catching up with Hemant as we discussed his earlier projects Shuttlecock Boys and Still Standing and his upcoming project X due for release in early 2014.

Remya: Let’s start from the beginning…
My whole exposure to the world of films happened around 2005 – 2006, back when I was based in New York. I, quite literally, hadn’t a clue about films; who Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese were. I read a book by Robert Rodriguez – Rebel Without a Crew – that details how a 23-year-old filmmaker makes a film with a $7000 budget subsequently becoming one of Hollywood’s famed directors. The book was my tipping point; his passion and drive stayed with me brewing up my own interest. Ultimately, my thirst to learn more about filmmaking led me to attend a series of workshops and talks on cinematography, scriptwriting and so on.

By 2008 I decided to move back to New Delhi, India. Unlike most other US based Indians I used up my savings to setup Pennywise Films with Pankaj, and not for a US Greencard. Pankaj who is a certified C.A. switched over to films. Little did we know that we were about to embark upon a 5-year long journey with our debut film Shuttlecock Boys.

415994_10150899922242504_969965467_oRemya: 5 long years?
Hemant: Yeah, we spent the better part of the first year conceptualizing Shuttlecock Boys. We spent so much money acquiring film stock and between scripting, casting, shooting and budgetary constraints it took 4 years for the film to finally come out.

Remya: Well worth the wait, I’d say. Shuttlecock Boys was critically well received amongst the indie film fraternity. How did you fund the film – technically and otherwise?
Hemant: We generated funds through family, friends and mainly dipped into our reserves. We didn’t aim for crowd funding at the time, I’d say it was more community funding. As for the equipment, it was all in-house, we used whatever we’ve got and consciously worked towards not spending more on equipment.

The actors we chose were non-actors at the time. And this worked well from a first film point of view.

Remya: It was a first for the actors in the film too. What has become of the Shuttlecock Boys?
Hemant: Two of the guys work on TV – Buddy Project on Channel V and also on a couple of Z TV Shows. The person who plays Pankaj’s role – is working on some films, TV serials and appears in a few TVC’s too. The guy who plays me is currently Assistant Director at Yash Raj films, so, although he may not have gotten into acting, he’s living the dream!

Remya: Where did your journey as filmmakers lead you to, post Shuttlecock Boys?
Hemant: In 2011 we shot a documentary for an NGO that we are very closely connected with. The documentary highlighted some of the activities that the NGO focuses on with the intent of raising money for the NGO. Fortunately, at the time, Pankaj was a part of Aamir Khan’s Sathyameva Jayate and through this channel, and others, the NGO managed to raise 7 crores. We’d like to believe that the awareness spread through our documentary helped facilitate this and we’re happy to have done our part.

We also had some screenings of Still Standing in Chicago and through these screenings raises $3500 towards the NGO.

998864_556693181053897_735335677_nRemya: That’s incredible! I’m sure the NGO is eternally grateful…
Hemant: They’d better be! The NGO is headed by Pankaj’s dad (Laughs)

Remya: Still Standing was in 2011… What happened after?
Still Standing took about a year to complete. We never released it officially as it was tied to a cause. We focused on other things. During last couple of years, we committed to a whole lot of corporate films, to generate revenue for our own projects.

Remya: Which brings me to your next Project. Tell us about X.
Well, currently we are working on a film titled X. The film has 10 different directors compiling 10 parts of the story with 10 different perspectives & styles. The theme remains eminent – The male protagonist is a filmmaker in his 40’s, who meets a 20 year-old girl after a party. The story unfurls of their night together, with her every movement reminding him of his past flames.

Remya: 10 stories. 1 night. Who are the directors involved in X?
The genius behind the idea is Sudish Kamath, so all credit goes to him for bringing us together. Anu Menon from London, Sandeep Mohan from San Fransisco, Gautham Menon – Chennai, Q – Kolkata, Pratim D Gupta – Kolkata and Rajshree Ojha, Raja Sen, Suparn Verma & Abhinav from Mumbai.

From Delhi, Pennywise Films is the only contributor to this project. We finished the shoot last month and are currently in post-production phase.

The film will be 100 minutes long with each director contributing 10-12 minutes of footage. We’re looking to release early next year.

Remya: And what can we expect next from Pennywise Films?
Hemant: Right now we have our hands full with 4 scripts can’t really zero down on one.

Remya: According to you, what is the way forward for Indie films?
Hemant: There is tremendous potential for indie filmmakers today as opposed to say 2011- early 2012. The best way for a striving indie filmmaker to make it would be to have small, ticket-priced screenings. Tickets should hold some charge, before it becomes a norm for films to be screened for free.

Another area to watch out for is video on demand platforms, like Artist Aloud. This area is developing, and fast. But the indie industry is gaining momentum, with films like Ship of Thesis and Lunchbox being received so well, there is hope yet.

Going forward, I can see the indie industry gaining through platforms such as Dear Cinema and IndiEarth, without the artist having to travel across the country. What we need is to be able to form a consortium of like-minded platforms that support each other and the artists.

Remya: How does a filmmaker such as yourself, reach or market one’s self?
Hemant: Social media is the way to go. We hired PR, but found it wasn’t too effective. Try to reach out to other filmmakers and industry experts. A fair bit of effort needs to go into this. Aim for more reviews of your work, through platforms like IndiEarth. Hold press shows and releases within your budget, or it becomes an expensive affair. We were lucky to get enough people to review our film.
Word-of-mouth is the most powerful tool for a filmmaker. Utilize social media and word-of-mouth in conjunction. Honestly, you need a certain amount of gumption without shying away from making cold calls and getting onto relevant people’s contact lists.

Remya: Some pointers for your fellow indie movie makers…
Speaking purely on experience – don’t be too crazy like us. We jumped in without thinking and spent almost all our savings on our films. Always have a back up, especially financial – to tide you over hard times, which you will definitely face as an independent filmmaker. Most importantly, have family and your core unit constantly support you.

Remya Nair

Remya Nair is a music enthusiast, singer/songwriter and one half of pop-duo Remy ‘n’ Venky. As Divisions Manager with IndiEarth, she writes on the indie music and film related scenario, exploring the immense talent that the country has to offer.

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